Good News for All of Us Who Don’t Get Enough Sleep: Too Much of It Is Bad for Our Brains

An excess of shut-eye can significantly impact our functioning

The world’s largest sleep study to date has something for just about everyone who has wondered about how much sleep to get — or not.

Western University in Ontario, Canada, is compiling the results from its recent sleep study — and preliminary findings reveal that seven to eight hours of sleep each night is ideal.

Although this isn’t earth-shattering news, the relationship between the “perfect” amount of sleep and the brain’s cognitive function is a groundbreaking discovery.

Subjects experienced improved cognitive function, as opposed to those who slept less or more than the precise amount. The neuroscientists from Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute released their findings on Thursday in the high-impact journal Sleep.

Launched in June 2017, the study included over 40,000 people from around the world. The investigation integrated an in-depth questionnaire and a series of cognitive performance activities. The survey asked questions about age, medications, geographic location, and education.

A typical laboratory sleep study wasn’t included in order to compile these results. “We wanted to find out what sleep is like in the real world,” Adrian Owen, Western’s lead researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging, told Science Daily.

Approximately half of the subjects reported sleeping less than 6.3 hours per night, about an hour less than the study’s recommended amount.

This sleep differential revealed that participants who slept four hours or less performed as if they were almost nine years older. This revelation could have an impact on any number of medical conditions — in addition to people’s daily performance at work.

Researchers also uncovered that sleep has no prejudice. Sleeping the recommended seven to eight hours rewarded all subjects with a high functional cognitive ability, regardless of age. Additionally, too much or too little sleep, too, had an equal impairment on the study participants, regardless of age.

“We found that the optimum amount of sleep to keep your brain performing its best is seven to eight hours every night, and that corresponds to what the doctors will tell you need to keep your body in tiptop shape as well. We also found that people who slept more than that amount were equally impaired as those who slept too little,” said Conor Wild, Owen’s lab research associate and the study’s lead author.

Reasoning and verbal abilities were most strongly affected by sleep. Comparatively, sleep deprivation can affect short-term memory, other sleep studies suggest. This research had no such conclusions.

As a man from Hartford, Connecticut, said, “I’ve been a poor sleeper since I can remember. Learning there’s a ‘magic sleep number’ could significantly change my life.”

A highly encouraging discovery by scientists is that even one good night’s sleep could affect a person’s ability to think. Participants who slept more than their “norm” the night before the study performed better than those who snoozed their usual amount or less.

For many people, finding the miraculous “fountain of sleep” is a gift sent from above. As a man from Hartford, Connecticut, said, “I’ve been a poor sleeper since I can remember. Learning there’s a ‘magic sleep number’ could significantly change my life.”

Learning and applying that learning are, of course, two unique and different science projects. People must become disciplined in the use of sleep routines and alarm clocks — and in regulating their cellphone use before bedtime.

Practicing patience is also a powerful tool in achieving optimal sleep habits.

The payoff for a minimal effort could be life-changing, however, judging by this study. Many people have dragged their feet and their bodies through the workday after a bad night’s sleep or too little sleep (or too much of it). Their reduced performance is very real — and their confidence, productivity and relationships can all be affected.

Taking a few minutes each evening to learn more about sleep hygiene, meditation, and the best ways to improve snoozing habits can result in a sharper mind, better work performance and more energy.

See more in the video below:

Based in Boynton Beach, Florida, Christine King is founder and CEO of Your Best Fit, a health and wellness company that provides fitness, nutrition, and design and management services.